Evan Petzold | Detroit Free Press
And then, they started cheering for him.
That’s because the 22-year-old — without a professional game under his belt — dropped in a double. Yet Dingler’s memorable at-bat wasn’t enough to pull the Tigers back into the contest, as they lost, 5-4, to the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Monday in the second Grapefruit League game of spring training.
With Zack Short standing on third base, a wild pitch from Albert Abreu allowed him to score and Dingler to advance to third. Already having two strikes, Rule 5 draft pick Akil Baddoo grounded out to shortstop to end the seven-inning game.
The Tigers travel to LECOM Park in Bradenton on Tuesday to play the Pittsburgh Pirates. Top pitching prospect Casey Mize, the No. 1 overall pick from the 2018 draft, is scheduled to start. Spencer Torkelson — the No. 3 prospect in all of baseball — is expected to get at least one or two innings at first or third base.
Pittsburgh requested Tuesday’s game be trimmed from seven to five innings.
The pitching report
Right-hander Kyle Funkhouser started for the Tigers and needed 28 pitches (13 strikes) to escape the first inning. He allowed two walks, but threw his fastball around 93-94 mph.
The 26-year-old’s best pitch was a 94.7 mph sinker to Jay Bruce at the bottom corner of the strike zone, resulting in a strikeout looking.
“Really big pitch,” Funkhouser said. “A little bit rusty out there. … (My stuff) was pretty good at times today, but the first time out, I was a little excited. A little bit rushed. I’ve been feeling a lot better in my mound work and my drill work. It’ll come along. I’m confident.”
The Tigers also sent to the mound Ethan DeCaster, Gregory Soto, Beau Burrows, Zack Hess, Andrew Moore and Jason Foley. DeCaster walked two batters (only had 15 walks in 73⅓ innings in 2019), but he kept the Yankees off the scoreboard. Soto left a 97.4 mph sinker up in the zone for Gary Sanchez to pummel over the batter’s eye in center field.
Hess allowed a grand slam to Chris Gittens, and his fastball velocity was between 91-92 mph. This offseason, he made a bet with his agent, Rachel Luba, that he would reach 100 mph this year. The 24-year-old also struggled with command.
Foley maxed out at 99.9 mph with his fastball. He needed eight pitches to get three outs.
A significant hint?
Robbie Grossman was the Tigers’ leadoff hitter and played left field. He worked a 3-2 count in the first inning — coming back from down 1-2 — and delivered a single to left field off three-time All-Star Gerrit Cole. Grossman’s career walk rate is 12.6% (last year’s league average was 9.2%), and his strikeout rate is 20.9%. And he is 12th in on-base percentage (.359) among American League hitters with at least 500 games since 2016.
Sounds like the makeup of a leadoff hitter in the Tigers’ new offense, which is supposed to emphasize working deeper into counts, limited strikeouts and increasing walks.
“Well, it started with Willi yesterday, so that one counts,” Hinch said. “Robbie’s going to hit there. I’ll have a couple of different guys hit there. We’ll see if you can guess it by the end of camp.”
JV’s brother shocked
In the top of the third inning, prospect Riley Greene swung at a 91 mph fastball from Jhoulys Chacin with Niko Goodrum dashing toward second base. A classic hit-and-run implemented by manager AJ Hinch put runners at the corners for Jake Rogers.
Rogers took strike one, then he fouled a bunt attempt on a curveball for the second strike. He ended up striking out looking on three consecutive curveballs toward the bottom of the strike zone.
Hinch called a safety squeeze (using Rogers, in a battle for the backup catcher gig), and it had Justin Verlander’s brother, Ben, dumbfounded. He wrote on Twitter: “I can’t believe my eyes. I’m watching AJ Hinch. In a Tigers uniform. Attempting a safety squeeze.”
Here’s what Hinch said after the game: “The second (bunt attempt) was a miscommunication. He’s going to need to be a little bit of a versatile player. We suggested it to him. The second one was a cross up.”
General manager Al Avila brought in catcher Wilson Ramos on a one-year, $2 million contract for one main reason: to hit. In 2019, the 33-year-old hit .288 with 14 homers and 73 RBIs across 141 games.
Facing Jhoulys Chacin, Ramos blasted a first-pitch 90 mph sinker for a two-run homer to center field, giving the Tigers a 3-0 lead in the top of the third inning.
Three ABs, three Ks
Rogers, vying for the backup job behind Ramos, made his first appearance this spring. He went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts. He has 35 games in his major-league career (all in 2019), going 14-for-112 (.125) with 51 strikeouts and 13 walks.
While Hinch wants defense to be his No. 1 priority, Rogers needs to battle in his at-bats.
Greene started in right field and went 1-for-1 with one walk. To earn his first-inning walk, he had to work Cole — who has some of the best stuff in the game — from down 1-2 in the count. Eventually, he got a free pass.
Kody Clemens subbed in for Greg Garcia at second base, and he grounded out to pitcher Nick Nelson in his first at-bat, then lined out to the shortstop in his second and final plate appearance. Greene is the Tigers’ No. 4 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, while Clemens is No. 18.
Dingler, ranked No. 8, pinch-hit for Ramos in the top of the seventh.